The Death of Jesus

Crucifixion of Christ

In the previous article, we considered the life of Jesus. He perfectly fulfilled the Father’s will – even in His death. This article will focus on the death of Jesus and what we should understand about it.

God’s Plan

When Peter preached the first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said that Jesus’ death on the cross was part of the “predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Jesus was described as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV). The Father knew that Jesus would suffer the death that He did on the cross.

Because He knew about this, there were many prophecies given to men that foretold of Jesus’ death. Regarding prophecies, Peter wrote, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). In other words, the prophecies about Jesus and His death came directly from God through the Holy Spirit. Notice just a few of these prophecies:

And I will put enmity between you [the serpent, as] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He [Jesus, as] shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:16-18; cf. John 20:25; Matthew 27:35).

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5; cf. Matthew 27:26).

This means that Jesus’ death on the cross was not an unexpected development. God knew it would happen and announced it on multiple occasions centuries before it took place. This is important in light of the popular theory of premillennialism.

What is premillennialism? This is the theory that Jesus will return one day, set up His kingdom on the earth, and then reign for a thousand years. According to this theory, the reason why it is necessary for Jesus to return to do this is because He failed to set up His kingdom the first time He came since the people rejected Him.

However, Jesus did not fail in His mission. He told the Father that He “accomplished the work” He had been given to do (John 17:4). If Jesus’ mission was to establish an earthly kingdom, He would have done it. On one occasion He had five thousand men ready to “take Him by force and make Him king” (John 6:15). Even if He did not have these, He had the authority to call down “more than twelve legions of angels” to stop His crucifixion (Matthew 26:53). But He had to die on the cross so that “the Scriptures [could] be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:54). The theory of premillennialism completely misses the point of Jesus’ mission.

We are not waiting for a future kingdom. We can be part of the kingdom now. Paul told the brethren in Colossae, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). They were not waiting for the Lord to establish His kingdom at some point in the future. They were already in the kingdom! That means that we can also be in the Lord’s kingdom now. This is because the kingdom is the church (Matthew 16:18-19) and it was established on the day of Pentecost following Jesus’ death on the cross (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 47).

All of this is to say that Jesus’ death on the cross was part of God’s plan from the beginning. He made that clear in His word.

Jesus’ Willing Sacrifice

Jesus described Himself as “the good shepherd [who] lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He contrasted Himself with the “hired hand” who was “not concerned about the sheep” and fled whenever danger came (John 10:12-13). Jesus was concerned about the sheep, not just Himself. Because of this, Paul used Jesus as the perfect example of humility and sacrifice:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus put the needs of mankind ahead of His own. Rather than saving Himself from the cross, He suffered and died on the cross so that He could save us. Furthermore, He willingly did this. Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:17-18).

Remember that Jesus’ death was part of God’s “predetermined plan” (Acts 2:23). This means that Jesus knew the reason why He came to earth – that He would die on the cross. In fact, He even foretold what would happen. Notice a couple of examples:

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21).

‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die” (John 12:32-33).

Jesus knew what would happen to Him and yet He did not desire to escape the cross [this point is discussed more in the previous article]. If He did desire to save Himself from the cross, He would have (Matthew 26:53). Yet He willingly laid down His life for us (John 10:17-18).

Made Forgiveness Possible

When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, His explanation of what the cup represented indicated the reason why His blood would be shed: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Paul said that “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7).

The sacrifices that were offered under the old law tied forgiveness to the shedding of blood. Regarding the sacrifices offered on the day of atonement, the Lord said, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11). The Hebrew writer pointed out this connection between the shedding of blood and forgiveness: “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). The sacrifices that were offered under the Law of Moses could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4), but they foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ. Because the shedding of His blood makes forgiveness possible, Jesus’ death is part of the foundation of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3).

On this point, it is important that we understand that Jesus’ sacrifice makes forgiveness possible for us if we will meet the conditions of pardon that He has given. Many in the religious world believe that we are saved unconditionally, but this is not the case. Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). Jesus explained the conditional nature of forgiveness when He gave the Great Commission: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Many believe that Jesus only died for the “elect,” but this is also not true. Jesus indicated that His death was for all mankind when He said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Paul wrote, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). This means that salvation is open to everyone, as long as they will conform to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Paul explained this in his letter to Rome:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

If we will do what the Scriptures say we must do to be saved, we can be forgiven of our sins by the blood of Jesus.

There is a question about the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Was it an atonement sacrifice or a substitution (that He died in our place or in our stead)? What do these mean?

  • If Jesus’ sacrifice was a substitutionary (vicarious) death, then Jesus would have suffered the punishment that was due us (dying in our place). Therefore, we would be free from punishment. However, Jesus did not suffer the punishment that was due us. This punishment is spiritual death (Romans 6:23), ending in “the lake of fire [which] is the second death” (Revelation 20:14). This did not happen to Jesus (Psalm 22:24; John 8:29; Luke 23:43). But if Jesus died as our substitute and received the punishment that we were due for our sins, then we could not be lost. This would mean that the Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints would be correct. Yet this is not what the Scriptures teach.
  • If Jesus’ death was an atonement sacrifice, that means His sacrifice delayed God’s wrath against us, giving us time to repent and be forgiven. This is illustrated in the example of the plague that God sent against the children of Israel following the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. After the plague began moving through the congregation, Aaron “ran into the midst of the assembly [and] put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked” (Numbers 16:47-48). These people would still eventually be punished by God as they died in the wilderness, but His wrath was turned away at this time and delayed against them. Jesus’ sacrifice made atonement for us in the same way. God’s wrath still exists (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Romans 2:4-6), but because of His sacrifice we have time to repent and avoid punishment for our sins if we will meet His conditions.

As the Hebrew writer said, “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Without Jesus’ blood being shed on the cross in His death, we would have no hope.

The Resurrection

When we consider the death of Jesus, we also need to remember His resurrection. Jesus did not just die on the cross. He was also raised from the dead. The angels who met the women at His tomb said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee” (Luke 24:5-6).

Paul described Jesus as “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). This does not mean He was the first one to be raised from the dead – there were others recorded in the Bible who had been raised from the dead before Jesus. Instead, this means that Jesus was the first to be raised to never die again. Paul wrote, “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him” (Romans 6:9). He defeated Satan and his power over death. The Hebrew writer pointed this out:

Therefore since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Furthermore, the resurrection was a historical fact, not a myth. This can be seen in the fact that there were hundreds of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). It can also be seen in the lives of the apostles who went from a state of fear (John 20:19) to being willing to die for their testimony (Acts 5:28-29, 40-42). If they knew what they said about the resurrection of Jesus was a lie, they had no reason to suffer as they did (1 Corinthians 15:32). The only reasonable explanation as to why all of them were willing to suffer to the point of death was that they knew their message of Jesus being raised from the dead was undeniably true.

We have hope through the resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). This means that as Christ was raised, we have hope of also being raised. Peter wrote that we have “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). We are “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” and “saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

Conclusion

Jesus died to save us, but we must take advantage of His sacrifice. This means we must obey the gospel and then live as servants of righteousness (Romans 6:3-4, 17-18).


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on Blessings, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Social Issues.